How familiar were you with the show before you started working on it?
Really familiar, actually. I had spent a lot of time in London just as the first season came on. I was doing a play in the West End for about four months and watching it all the time. Shortly thereafter I was introduced to David Walliams by a mutual friend, and we hit it off, became friends. Then I was directing a movie in London about a year ago, starring Simon Pegg, who's also friends with David, and we both had the idea of casting David in a cameo. Then I met Matt through David and Simon; it's a tight group of very funny people. I was flattered that they thought of me to be one of the directors when it came to the States.
Have they had to change anything in the writing style or anything in coming to America?
It's an opportunity for them to create some wonderful American characters, which they're doing. There's a great opportunity they have as Britons looking at America as outsiders to provide a kind of social commentary and satire that someone who lives here may not be able to. In addition, they're bringing some of their British characters to the States. I have to say there's one incredibly brilliant benefit that came out of transplanting a character like Carol Beer (played by David Walliams, the "computer says no" woman). Before, in the UK, her job was a travel agent. Now in the States, she works in reception at a hospital. I think it's a brilliant move because we in the States know just how frustrating the bureaucracy is at a hospital, and getting through that red tape. And also because it's a hospital, the stakes are suddenly so much higher for anyone coming in and needing help. I think a lot of the characters are going to benefit that way.
Of the American characters is there any one in particular that you are especially excited about?
I'm loving Matt's new character of the grandmother. Also David's character of the astronaut. They really have disappeared into these characters and they're amazing. And because it's hysterical in a broad way, I think the gym buddies are kind of incredible. I love how Sebastian, who was the assistant to the Prime Minister of Britain, is now the British Prime Minister and his terrible crush is now on the U.S. President, who's being played by Harry Lennix.
Is there any commentary in that casting on who the next President might be?
Matt and David are obviously politically conscious and aware about American, British and world politics, and they infuse that into the writing. Even the dynamic between the French President (Paul Rudd), the U.S. President and the British Prime Minister has a cattiness about those countries and their relationships which reflects current politics.
When you're behind the camera do you draw on your previous acting experience?
Being behind the camera is completely different, but what I try to do first and foremost is make sure everyone's having a great time. It sounds kind of simple but when you're making comedy and you're doing a live show, the vibe on set is really important. I was really sensitive to it as an actor, and I know Matt and David are very sensitive about it. There's a certain warmth that I try to establish among the crew and even the guest stars who are there for a day and the background supporting artists. Matt and Dave think the same way; they really want to make everyone feel comfortable and part of the team. It's important to create a vibe that we're gonna have a good time, work hard but it's gonna be fun and supportive. I try to bring that to the table. I'm also very collaborative. I made sure before we started to talk to them and say, "Look, you guys know these characters better than I do. You've lived with them for three years or longer, so you tell me: What I can do to make your process go more smoothly?" And then I just try, as an actor and director, to bring little ideas to the scene.
You filmed 'Friends' in front of an audience. What are the benefits?
There's a reciprocal relationship between the actor and the audience when you're doing a live television show. When you're shooting a film or with single camera, you can't laugh, the crew has to be really quiet. You get one actor's coverage, and then it might be an hour and a half or so before you turn the camera around, re-light for the other actor's coverage, and any spontaneity or energy that might've occurred between the two actors, you have to recreate. Sometimes it feels forced. If you have really good actors like these guys, it doesn't. But filming a live show, you have four cameras and they're flying all over the place to capture all the movement and the real energy between these two guys. And hopefully you get other actors, like Harry Lennix, who's a classically trained stage actor as well, who can do anything. With that much performer confidence all you have to do is make sure the cameras are on them and magic happens. For instance, when they do the scene a second time, they'll throw some new line in there, and if you've got seasoned actors, they'll just roll with it and anything can happen.
Who makes a better lady, Matt or David?
I think Matt makes a better woman; David makes a better lady.